"Who was the guy at your house today?" Trish asked
"Why?" Melissa asked.
"Just wondering if your mom's dating someone already. Your dad hasn't been gone that long."
"He wasn't my dad," Melissa said quickly.
"Sorry. I forgot," Trish said.
"He looked familiar," Stacey said.
"You think so, too?" Trish asked. "I thought he was pretty cute."
"Ew," Melissa said.
"You don't think so?" Trish asked. "I wish I could remember who he looks like."
If Melissa had known John was going to be there she would never have brought her friends home or make plans to go to the game tonight. Had he just shown up? She doubted that for some reason.
She hadn't heard from Claude yet with the information and demo she'd sent him, but they'd been on the road since he'd told her to send her stuff so she was trying not to get paranoid he'd hated her music. She'd made the demos in the privacy of her own home studio not really planning on anyone ever hearing them. The desire to make them, though, wouldn't go away.
"I think he's our parents' age."
"Your parents' age maybe," Trish said. Trish's parents were about fifteen years older than her mom and dad. She wasn't even the youngest. Her parents had just waited to have kids.
Unlike her parents.
She still couldn't believe they'd come to Shermer this summer. Last summer she would have been so close to him with no clue. Part of that was her fault maybe. She hadn't asked questions as she got older. Her mom's answers as a kid of her dad not being here sufficed and she'd never really thought to challenge them.
After Stu told her his name she'd gone to the school library and looked through yearbooks from when her mom was in school. He wasn't in one of the yearbooks. Anywhere. She'd almost thought Stu had lied to her, except she didn't think he'd really do that. He'd always been nice to her and treated her as if she was his own daughter for the short time he was able to do that.
Trish was familiar with Shooterz. They were, given their age, a band that her parents liked well enough growing up. It wasn't through her mom she'd even known the band existed. There'd been a hit song of theirs years ago that Melissa remembered her mom not liking. She'd disliked it to the point of turning it off anytime it came on the radio, which is why it stood out to her. Her mom wasn't usually that picky or opinionated about music. She'd certainly survived Melissa's love of the Backstreet Boys, Boys II Men, and the Spice Girls. (Melissa had to admit she still kind of liked the Spice Girls.)
She'd listened to the song for the first time in years after Stu had told her who her dad was, and she wondered if he hadn't been honest to her about songwriting. She'd looked on the liner notes for the name of who'd written the song, but it had been credited to the band as a whole as they usually were. She didn't get the impression they'd dated or even been involved with one another so she had no idea why she thought that song was about her mother, but she did listening to it then and still did today.
The game was kind of a bore. Shermer blew the other school away.
"You're not coming to Denny's?" Trish asked.
"No, I'm going to get home. Guest and all," she said with a shrug. She tried not to be obvious about the fact she wanted to get home. Trish, like it or not, was like a bloodhound if she sensed gossip. Melissa did not want to be the focal point of her gossip anytime soon.
Scotty wasn't out, so she took that to mean he and her mom were up in bed. Scotty spent the night with one or the other of them. Melissa knew her mom hadn't wanted another dog and when Stu got so sick toward the end there care for Scotty sort of fell to Melissa. She certainly didn't mind because she knew her mom had more important things to deal with. He hadn't wanted to die in a hospital, so her mom had done so much toward the end there. They were lucky Scotty was so smart because a puppy on top of all of that was a lot of work, even with Melissa helping.
She knocked lightly on John's door. If he was sleeping maybe she wouldn't disturb him.
He opened it a few minutes later.
"Hey," he said.
"Hi," she said.
"I was wondering if you weren't talking to me or something."
"No," she said, ducking her head a bit at that. "Just one of my friends likes to tell anyone who'll listen stuff that's none of their business."
"I remember that phenomenon very vividly despite it being a long time ago."
"I just didn't want her to think you were anyone important."
"As long as you think I'm someone important that's cool."
He chuckled a bit at that.
"I was teasing. I'm not, really, but thank you for saying so. So, who won the game?"
"Still tearing through the opposition then."
"I guess. Did you follow football?"
"No! Not Shermer football anyway. I didn't have any choice in my house but to watch the Bears if my father was home and sober enough to remember it was Sunday. So, I know the sport and everything, but I had little to no school spirit."
"I remember you talking about that," she said, glancing at his arm.
"Yeah, well. What can I do for you? I mean, did you need something? Or were you just seeing if I was still here?"
"I don't know. I felt sort of bad I couldn't talk to you earlier. I didn't know you were going to be here or I would never have brought them home."
"You had a project, though."
"Yes, but, we could have worked on it tomorrow at someone else's house."
"Well, I'm here for a couple of days so it's all right. I think your mom didn't tell you because she was worried my plans would change and I'd end up in Boise or something."
"So, you spent the night with my mom?"
"Uh, well, yeah. She took me to turn my rental car. I guess you two are going to take me to the airport when I do leave. We had dinner. You know."
"Have many dinners at home on Friday night?"
"No, never," he said. "I can't remember the last time honestly. Way younger than you."
She had no idea what to really say to him. He didn't look like she'd woken him, but it was after eleven o'clock. Her mom was rarely up this late. Then her mom didn't play concerts either night after night. He was probably used to being awake this late.
"So," he said.
"I should let you get to sleep."
"You could. I'm awake, though. You're awake. What's on your mind?"
"That'd be nice, yes, because I don't know how to read your mind."
"I'd like to play with you."
She pointed at his guitar case behind him. He glanced behind him and saw what she was pointing at.
"Oh, yeah, sure. We can do that. We'll probably wake your mom, though."
"No, we won't," she said. "Grab your guitar and follow me."
"All right," he said, looking very much as if he enjoyed hearing her say that. Maybe he did.
She led him to the basement and her studio down there. It was soundproof even so she could play to her heart's content down here and never wake her mother.
"This is really nice," he said, setting his guitar case down as he took it all in.
"I'm sure it's nothing compared to what you're used to."
"Don't sell it short. Your mom obviously went all-out for you."
"I think she just didn't want to hear me play at all hours of the night."
John laughed a bit at that. "I understand that completely."
"Where did you play?"
"At my house when my parents weren't around as much as I could. Otherwise, wherever I could. A guitar isn't the most portable of instruments. I mean, it is, but it's not like a flute. I didn't have a car so I couldn't take it everywhere with me. I tried, though."
"Oh," she said.
She watched him as he walked around, looking closer at everything.
"You going to send your demo to Claude?"
"I did," she said.
"Good," he said.
"Will he really listen to it?"
"He will. He wouldn't have told you he would if he wouldn't."
"Because you're my dad."
"Sure, that may be. Does it matter why he's doing it? If you're good and it gets you in the door, that's all that matters. It's not like anyone but Claude is going to know that's who you are. Your last name isn't the same as mine."
She'd sort of wondered ever since Stu told her who her father was why her last name was Standish and not Bender. The only lawyers she knew were her grandfather and uncle. From what Stu said they were no fans of her father, so she'd kept her questions to herself.
"Would you listen to it?"
"If you wanted me to, sure. As of right now, it's between you and Claude. I'd be flattered if you wanted me to."
"And if I'm not good?"
"Well, he'll be honest, Melissa. He's not going to lie to you, but he won't tell you to go dive off a cliff or anything. He'll tell you what he liked and worked and what didn't."
"Okay," she said.
"Which one do you like to play best?" he asked, gesturing to her guitars. She had three.
"Depends on what I'm playing and the sound I'm going for," she said with a shrug. "Overall, though," she said, stepping next to him and pointing at her favorite.
"Can I?" he asked.
"Yeah, sure," she said. "I wanted to play with you, though."
"Well, you have three others to choose from here."
He nodded his head a bit. "I don't know about you, sweetheart, but I count four guitars in the room right now."
"Oh, but that was your…"
"It is, but he was yours, too. Well, I guess great, right? That's how it works. You're not going to hurt it. Playing it when I was growing up I'd wished my dad had taken one second to play it for me."
"Then why don't you play it for me?"
"You've heard me play it, I heard you play it, too, I realize. I like playing new guitars. I mean if you don't want to. I mean, it's old and …"
"No," she said.
"I can admit I liked seeing you play it," he said softly. He was tuning the guitar he'd chosen, and tried to make what he'd said sound casual but she suspected somehow it wasn't.
"Honestly, I prefer acoustic to electric."
"Me, too," he admitted. "Unfortunately, acoustic tends not to sell more records." He shrugged.
She already knew he preferred acoustic because when he'd let her play for him in July he'd chosen this guitar over the one he used for shows. She opened the case and regarded the picks that were there. He always seemed to have one in his hand, she'd noticed. These, though, in the case were … The color of her mom's favorite nail polish. She strayed once in a while, tried new things, but as long as Melissa could remember her mother wore this shade. It wasn't a true pink, wasn't really a mauve either. She'd seen plenty of guitar picks since she'd been playing, but never one this color.
She wore pretty similar colors, too, since she had the same hair and skin tone as her mom.
"So, you've never been married?" she asked.
"No," he said, glancing at her curiously. "You think my answer changed on that since July?"
"You said you had no kids, too."
He took a seat in a chair, holding the guitar and she saw a lot of her in that movement. She always thought she was like her mother. They looked alike and she was who raised her, but she supposed there was something to the whole nature versus nurture thing. Her mom wasn't musical. She drew, which some would argue was creativity just different than music so not a leap that Melissa had that same creativity just in a different form. She sat like him, though. Maybe there were only so many ways to sit while holding a guitar.
"It was the easiest answer. It's not like it came up in every interview I've given."
He arched a brow, regarding her a bit with those words.
"Sure," he said. "I think you get to be my age and unlike Claude I don't have a string of ex-whatevers and kids to support the questions get asked. I had one reporter ask me, off the record, if I was gay."
"Yeah." He shrugged.
"I can't imagine anyone thinking that."
"I can't either, but it's a fickle business, and there are people who are that who are very good at hiding it because it may affect record sales. We're all in this business to make a buck."
"I think we'd define serious pretty differently. My idea of a serious boyfriend is Sean right now."
John grimaced a bit at that.
"You don't like that idea?"
"I think you should be careful. I'm not entirely sure I trust him."
"He told me that he took something from you."
"He did?" John asked.
"I threw all of that shit away. I haven't touched it since that night. I didn't have it for extracurricular purposes either. I had it because it's hard sometimes to function. You're up all night and then you have to travel all the next day and then you're expected to go on that night. He shouldn't be talking to you about my business, likely I shouldn't be either."
"That's why you don't trust him, though?"
"Yes. I'm not convinced he took what he took for himself and not for you. He didn't know you were my daughter until after the fact. He shouldn't have been giving you alcohol either."
"I honestly didn't think I'd get that drunk."
He chuckled softly.
"Well, it got you and your mom actually talking again I guess and you staying here full-time again."
"So, I guess it worked out all right."
"I thought you wanted to play."
"I do, but you're going to leave and I don't know when I'll see you again."
"I gave you my phone number."
"I'm not sure these are things I want to talk to you about over the phone."
"And past girlfriends is something you want to know about?"
She shrugged. She wasn't really sure. She just wanted to know the answer.
He nodded a bit, plucking one of the strings on the guitar he held. In the light and with the way his hair moved she almost thought she saw a hickey on his neck, but he hadn't had one earlier in the day so she was obviously seeing things. "My longest girlfriend was fourteen months. Most of them don't last much longer than six maybe nine. The last one didn't even last four."
He snorted softly. "I met her right before I met you. I've always been okay with the no wives or kids thing. Like I said, just an easier answer. I got back after seeing you and just felt as though I was lying to her. I wasn't sure how to go back and undo it. So I just told her I couldn't see her anymore."
"You'd told her you didn't have kids?"
"No! But how do I over three months into it suddenly tell her about you? And that days before was the first time I'd ever seen you? I didn't think it'd go over very well so I just said nothing about you. And if I did tell her and then we broke up there was always the risk if it was a bad breakup she'd tell people. That may not bother me so much. I don't care. I mean if people find out I'm not going to deny it or anything. I'm not, like ashamed of you or anything. However, that may be more than what you and your mom want right now. Claude and Sean know they're to keep it under wraps for now until I know what your mom wants me to do about it. I don't want to upset your life either. Then there's your grandparents. I don't think there's anything they can do this far into it. You're almost eighteen, but they made it abundantly clear they'd go after me with all they could to keep me from you."
"Oh," she said. "No other kids?"
"You don't want any more?"
"I never wanted one! I mean, no offense to you. I just didn't have the best example growing up so that was not something I ever planned on doing. You've turned out okay, but I've spent a lot of time thinking since July on what you might have been like with any influence by me. I don't know how I would have reacted to crying babies or whatever. My dad didn't so well," he shrugged. "As much as I am still not happy with the way it all went down your grandparents had your best interest when they did what they did."
"I know," she said. She knew that. She didn't know the details. Stu had given her some, but he wasn't there so didn't know them all. She'd never forget seeing him without a shirt that morning in his room. She'd never been around anyone who'd been abused.
"Can we play now?" he asked and she laughed softly.
"Yeah," she whispered. "Sorry."
"No need to apologize. It's just late and if I'm going to be up this late I'd much rather play music than think about that shit."
"Not that you're shit. You absolutely aren't, but growing up and stuff."
"I get it, thanks for being honest."
"I have nothing to gain by lying to you, so you can count on me being honest."
"One last question?"
"Did you love my mom?"
"I never really got the chance to figure out that's how I felt, but yeah. I meant what I said. She was the best thing to ever happen to me and the idea of seeing her and you happy with someone else really bothered me."
"She was never serious about anyone until Stu. She dated, I guess. I never met anyone but him, though."
"She mentioned that, yeah."
"Yeah. I came here after I figured out who you were while we were in town in July."
"Oh," she said. It was her turn to pluck one of the strings, grabbing one of the picks. He scowled a bit, and likely knew what had given her the idea of asking him if he loved her mom.
"So, what are we playing?" he asked.
"Oh, I don't know."
"You're the boss. This was your idea. You must have had something in mind," he said.
"Then, let's go."
John glanced up when the door opened.
"There you guys are," Claire said.
He put a finger up to his mouth and gestured with his head to a sound asleep Melissa on the couch in a corner. It was actually a pretty nice setup down here. Not state of the art as far as the equipment itself, but clearly this wasn't the first time she'd fallen asleep down here working on stuff.
"Oh," she said. She came and sat next to him, glancing at what he was doing. "I'd forgotten you write."
He snorted. "I've dabbled. I don't think I'm very good at it, but I can."
"How long has she been asleep?"
"About an hour maybe," he said, glancing at his watch.
"Looks like you guys had a party down here."
"She was hungry. I guess she didn't eat dinner so we ordered a pizza."
"I slept through that?"
"Must have. We told him to knock on the door instead of ring the bell and just hung out up there for about ten minutes from the time they said it'd be delivered until he got there. I haven't had Chicago pizza since July so it was no hardship ordering it for her."
"Oh," she said. "You didn't have to. I can pay you back."
"Don't be ridiculous. It was a pizza. It was no big deal."
"You're drinking root beer?"
"That was her drink of choice for the night."
"Yeah, she still likes it better than Coke or Pepsi."
"I haven't had anything stronger than Coke since that night in my room."
He shrugged. "I told you I'm not an addict."
"I just wasn't thinking you meant all of it."
"You asked me to take a look at what kind of example I'd set. That night made me do it a little faster than maybe I was ready to do it, but I did."
She picked up one of the picks Melissa had used from his case. John would bet a million dollars that those picks were where those questions came from about marriage, girlfriends, and kids.
"How long have you had these?"
"About the time I moved out of my parents' house."
"And no one's commented on the color of your picks?"
"They're my personal picks. I don't use them to perform with so no one's seen them. Until Sean saw them last month in my room. He noticed their similar color to Melissa's nails."
"Yours, too," he said, running a fingertip over one of them on the hand holding the pick.
"I haven't changed much. It works."
"I liked it," he said with a shrug.
"What are you writing?"
"She had a song she'd written but no music to put to it. We worked on how she thought it should sound, so now I'm writing it down."
"Just like that?"
"That's usually how it works. Yes."
"Did she wake you up?"
"No, I was still awake when she got home."
"I thought she was you coming back to see me."
"What time did she get home?"
"A little after eleven."
"I thought she'd be out a lot later than that. She usually is on football game nights."
"I had my shirt back on and everything," he whispered.
"Good," she said, blushing and he chuckled softly before leaning in to kiss her. "I didn't even hear her come in."
"Well, if you want to sleep that well again tonight you know where to find me."
"You shouldn't say that."
"She's going to hear you!"
"She's asleep and we're whispering. Besides why are you worried about her hearing that but not her seeing me just kiss you?"
"You shouldn't do that either."
He chuckled and placed his hand over hers still holding the pick.
"I let her play my guitar again."
"Yeah. I kind of like seeing her play it. She doesn't look like me or anything, but it makes me think back to being that age and meeting Claude, Billy, and X."
"Whatever happened to him?"
"He quit a few years in, thought he could make a go of it on his own and didn't. Last I saw him he was waiting tables at some Friday's type place in Times Square."
"You asked me why we play all of these shows. That's why. Claude, Billy, and I at least we know we're just one step away from being like Xavier. We don't want that so we play any gig that comes our way and try to sock enough away for when our records don't sell as well anymore."
"And you've done that?"
"To this point. I'm thinking of selling my place in New York."
"I don't need it anymore, really. I liked the nightlife the city had to offer when I first landed there. Now, though, I find myself not needing it as much. I still like it, but it doesn't call to me like it used to. I know that probably means I'm growing up or something."
She shrugged. "So, just Tampa then?"
"I guess. That's where I'm going after I leave here. Well, I'll stop in New York for a couple of days, but then I'll head there. Say," he said.
"Why don't you two look at coming down there after Christmas?"
He turned a bit, glancing at Melissa a bit to make sure she was still sleeping before he reached to touch Claire's cheek.
"You have better New Year's Eve plans, Princess. That guy's already asked?"
"No! I'm just not sure that's a good thing to do."
"I've seen where you live. Maybe you'd like to see where I live. And the beach is right outside. You can't tell me she wouldn't love that."
"She would," Claire said, biting her lower lip as she had done yesterday. It gave him the same thought as yesterday, too, and he acted upon it the same way.
"I would, too," he whispered.
"I wouldn't sleep with you."
"I didn't ask you to. There's plenty of space for both of you."
"Yes. It belonged to some former Buccaneers player so is pretty spacious."
"He got traded in a pretty nasty parting of the ways so he sold the place for a song just to have it off his hands." He had no idea why he'd bought it. He had more space than he'd ever use, but he supposed it was the coming from nothing thing that drove him to pursue it. "Melissa could see my recording studio."
He shrugged. "Why not? Have you had any time off since your husband died?"
"I don't work!"
"That's not what I mean, and you know it. Time away from the everyday grind. A vacation. You went on trips with him you said, but that couldn't have been easy either. Going on trips knowing you were going because he was sick and dying."
"No," she admitted.
"So, take a vacation. She's off from school, I'm not asking you to pull her from classes or anything."
"No," she said. "I'll think about it."
"She could bring a friend."
He shrugged. "Maybe they'd go out a night or two and leave us alone again. I liked being alone with you last night," he said, trailing his thumb along her lower lip before kissing her again.
"I'm not going to ask her friend to come with us so that you can…"
"I don't know that she'd have a friend she'd want to bring with."
"Yeah, she mentioned that. There must be someone."
"She asked me if I had wives or girlfriends, more kids," he said.
"Well, I'm sure she has a lot of questions."
"Yes. I can imagine. Do you want to know my answer to that?"
"I know your answer to that."
He laughed softly. "So you want to hear what we worked on?"
"She'll wake up."
"Guitars are portable," he said.
"Well, then sure, I'd love to. She doesn't usually let me see or hear things she writes."
"Well, I'll just let her know I'm looking for an objective opinion on whether what I wrote goes with her lyrics."
"I'm sure it's fine."
"I wrote a song about you once," he admitted.
"I know," she said softly.
She shrugged. "I knew. I know your music, John. Your bands I mean. I knew that song hadn't been written by Claude."
"Yeah, I wrote it years before it was released. Our label kept telling us it didn't fit. Once we had a few successful records, one of them with two multi-platinum songs on it, under our belt we insisted because Claude and I both thought it would sell."
"It did pretty well if I recall."
"I hated it," she admitted.
"Me, too," John said with a shrug. "It begged to be written, though. And that's why I don't like to write. I don't like what comes out. Good thing about having no personal life to speak of, no one would ever believe that song came from me."
She laughed softly, pressing her cheek against his hand. "Let me hear it," she said.
"Lead the way," he said, grabbing his guitar and the papers he'd been writing on as well as the pencil. "She's not going to wake up and freak out I'm gone, is she? I don't know where her room is or anything or I would have carried her up there."
"She's a little big for that."
"I would've done it if I knew where to go."
"She'll be fine," she said.
"All right, you're the mom."
"I am," she said.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com